Candidate Clinton: Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential Campaign

From Blazing Trails to Weathering Attacks, Clinton Rises to the Challenge

Senator Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Presidential Debates in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Hillary Rodham Clinton first ran for public office while still living in the White House with her husband, US President Bill Clinton.

After the couple purchased a home in Chappaqua, NY in 1999, near the end of his second term, she announced her candidacy for the the Senate seat of the state of New York in February 2000, stepping down from the duties of First Lady at that time.

Hillary's New York State of Mind

She won 54% of the vote, easily beating her opponent, New York Congressman Rick Lazio, who received 42%.

In 2001, she became New York State's junior senator.

New Year's Resolution: Run for President

After winning re-election to the Senate in 2004, Clinton entered the 2008 presidential race with her announcement on January 20, 2007. At that time, Clinton appeared to be the clear front-runner.

The Politics of Gender

Well-situated to become the nation's first female president, Clinton understood that the road ahead would not only break new ground, but also reopen the debate as to whether a woman could be elected President.

She encountered a number of gender based attacks and the use of the "B" word. During the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, she acknowledged that what she was doing was aiming "toward the highest, hardest glass ceiling," and joked about wearing an asbestos pantsuit to withstand the heat.

Inevitable...or Insufferable?

As the 2008 presidential primaries drew closer, many believed that Clinton's place at the top of the Democratic ticket was inevitable.
Her own confidence level seemed perhaps a bit too high in a November 26, 2007 interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

Yet she saw her poll numbers slip as her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, began to establish himself as a strong and formidable candidate.

Oprah as the Opposition

Then celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey entered the picture, endorsing Obama and agreeing to campaign for him in three key states in early December 2007. Clinton's 'inevitability' seemed in question.

Playing the Family Card

As Oprah brought in tens of thousands of women and men to Obama events in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire the second weekend of December, Clinton relied on the intergenerational appeal of having her mother and daughter by her side in an effort to reach out to women voters.

In mid-2007, Hillary Clinton held a commanding lead over all other Democratic candidates in the presidential race. Talk of the inevitability of her nomination permeated her campaign and dominated media coverage. As the fall and winter progressed, however, those early assumptions were turned upside-down.

Her first head-to-head confrontation with Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and John Edwards resulted in her third-place finish in the Iowa Caucus on January 3, 2008.

Why Hillary lost came down to lack of voter confidence in her as an agent of change, combined with a perceived lack of warmth and a constantly-shifting public persona.

New Hampshire Change of Heart

In a January 4, 2008 letter to her supporters, Clinton wrote, "We've got more work to do." She shifted her strategy to emphasize change in hopes of doing better in the New Hampshire primary; cited her history of change during the January 5, 2008 presidential debates in Manchester, NH; and even had a laugh about her likeability issue.

In a moment that appears to have been pivotal in Clinton's New Hampshire campaign, she allowed herself to show some emotion, growing tearful in describing what motivates her desire to run for president.

Also on the same day, two young men interrupted Clinton's speech, yelling "Iron my shirt!" The incident was followed by accusations that the protest was a plant by her campaign.

Although polls indicated that Obama would beat Clinton in New Hampshire by a double-digit margin, the January 8, 2008 primary in that state delivered Clinton her first win.

In her victory speech, Clinton thanked the Granite State for being the place where "I found my own voice."

Tracks of My Tears

Clinton's open display of emotion - coming from a woman so typically guarded during her years as First Lady - became the source of much speculation and criticism in the media.

Op-ed articles on the politics of gender either lambasted Clinton or held her up as an iconic image.

Among the most controversial - and widely read - was an op-ed by Gloria Steinem, noted women's rights advocate and founder of Ms. magazine. Writing in the New York Times, Steinem's commentary on Hillary's campaign and ongoing gender battle, 'Women are Never Front Runners," re-envisioned Obama as a woman and debated whether or not a female African American candidate would have made it so far.

Steinem's piece was received with both support and ridicule; it highlighted a conflict that would rear its head again and again in the weeks ahead.

One Step Ahead, Two Steps Back

The next political contest, the Nevada caucuses, proved to be a mixed bag for Clinton. Although she won the popular vote, Obama ended up with more delegates from that state.

In South Carolina, the Clinton campaign took an unfortunate turn. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, came out to stump for her - but in fact may have done significant damage. On the offensive, Bill Clinton spoke out harshly against Barack Obama and set him up as "the black candidate."

Not Quite a Helpmate

Bill Clinton's statements reignited the volatile race/gender debate, and his insensitivity disturbed a large number of undecided voters - African-American women who many felt were the key to victory in South Carolina.

These were the votes that gave Obama a decisive win over Clinton.

South Carolina was also significant for John Edwards; his poor showing convinced him to withdraw from the race, thus clearing the way for the Democratic Party to nominate either the first woman or the first African American man for president in 2008.

Growing tensions between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were magnified by media coverage. On Monday, January 28, 2008, the evening of President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, much was made of an incident involving the two candidates that the media labeled "The Snub." However, at the February 1, 2008 debate in Hollywood, CA both sides - realizing that pettiness would only hurt their candidates in the eyes of the voters - appeared to have taken a more conciliatory tone.

Strange Bedfellows

Whether or not voters pay attention to endorsements is questionable. Clinton did not get the support of Ted Kennedy, who passed the torch to Barack Obama and stood by his side during the 2008 State of the Union address. Yet, much to her amusement, conservative catty chatty pundit Ann Coulter came out for her, endorsing Clinton over McCain.

Once regarded as the Democratic party's inevitable nominee for president, Hillary Clinton watched her front-runner status diminish in many key states in early February 2008 as Barack Obama's campaign gained momentum.

Scenes from Super Tuesday

Large numbers of delegates were up for grabs on Tuesday, February 5, 2008, as primaries and caucuses across a number of states yielded up delegates to the winners.

At the polls, voters appeared to be passionate about their candidates. This was especially evident with older women, many of whom expressed strong emotion over seeing a woman on the ballot.

Clinton won as expected in New York, California, and most of the mid-Atlantic states. Yet she only added eight states to the win column, while Obama took home thirteen including Colorado, Connecticut, and the South. Her Super Tuesday speech showed a shift in Clinton's demeanor, perhaps a realization that her previous inevitability no longer existed, and that Obama might win the Democratic nomination.

"Pimped Out" Comments Spark a Mother's Anger

Clinton needed to inspire undecided voters and could no longer rely on her husband Bill, whose appearances had possibly hurt her in South Carolina. Daughter Chelsea Clinton stepped up her presence on the campaign trail, making public appearances and calling celebrities and other media movers and shakers. Her phone conversations were debated on ABC's daytime talk show, The View, by co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar - both recipients of a Chelsea Clinton call.

Chelsea's efforts to help her mother were questioned by MSNBC correspondent David Shuster, who asked, ""Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"

Shuster's comment was cited as another example of gender bias against the Clinton campaign; and it resulted in Hillary Clinton writing to the president of NBC News and calling for Shuster's termination.

Valentine's Day Massacre

By mid-February, Clinton's early lead was gone. Continuing losses to Obama indicated a groundswell of interest in change. Overwhelmingly, voters indicated they felt Clinton did not represent change. By Valentine's Day, Clinton's weariness was apparent; her voice was scratchy throughout many campaign speeches. Realizing that her likability continued to be an issue, she cultivated photo ops, passing out chocolates to the press pool and even speaking to one producer's girlfriend to apologize for his not being there on Valentine's Day.

Gutter Language

And as her prospects declined, there were those who relished the chance to kick Clinton while she was down. Republican strategist Roger Stone founded the nastiest effort yet to derail Clinton - Citizens United Not Timid, a stop-Clinton campaign whose acronym is crude and deliberate. The intentional use of a vulgar term for female anatomy contrasted sharply with an unintentional one by actress/activist Jane Fonda that had been making headlines at the same time.

Texas Hold'Em

By February 21, over the course of several smaller caucuses and primaries, Clinton had lost every single contest to Barack Obama. The calls began for her to step down and withdraw from her presidential campaign to avoid tearing the Democratic Party asunder. Yet Clinton held on with unwavering determination, intending to see the campaign through to the Texas and Ohio primaries - both states she expected to win on March 4.

Many expected that the last week of February 2008 would mark the final days of Hillary Clinton's campaign to be the first female President of the United States. A succession of losses to her opponent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, left her facing a wide gap in the delegate count.

"Weekend Update" Updates Clinton's Image

Yet a strong base of support for Clinton still existed.

And one show of this support came from an unexpected source - NBC's long-running late-night comedy hit, Saturday Night Live, which returned on February 23, 2008, following the end of the Hollywood writers' strike.

Former SNL cast member Tina Fey (who was also the show's first female head writer) appeared as the guest host and delivered a funny and pointed observation of the root of Clinton's campaign woes in her "Bitch is the New Black" commetary during SNL's Weekend Update segment. The skit created a buzz that spread across the internet.

The Fighter and the Red Phone

With a week to go before the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio - two crucial states Clinton had focused her energies on - the tone of her campaign ads took on a sharper edge. Clinton positioned herself as the stronger candidate, the fighter, and the one who would have the expertise to handle any crisis that might come up.

One ad that typified this approach, the "red phone ad," had Clinton handling a critical phone call while a voiceover intoned, "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?"

Political observers were quick to assess the risk of taking on the role of the fighter and going negative with her campaign.

The Famous...and the Infamous

And celebrities, following in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey with her endorsement of Barack Obama, continued to weigh in with their presidential picks, including comedienne Roseanne Barr on why experience trumps inspiration.

Heading into the weekend before the March 4 primary, opinions were split regarding Hillary Clinton's chances of winning one or both of the states she'd previously believed she had in her pocket.

And even more celebrities crawled out of the woodwork to support Clinton with wacky endorsements of questionable value.

As Ohio Goes, So Goes the Nation

When Clinton did win Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island on Tuesday, March 4 (a date nicknamed Mini Super Tuesday), she was quick to point out that:

"...in recent history, no one has ever been elected president who did not win their party's primary in Ohio.

Ohio is the bellwether state. If you cannot win Ohio, you cannot win the presidency.

Clinton's win reduced the delegate gap down to about 150 pledged delegates, and she declared her campaign revitalized and eager for the next big contest, the April 22, 2008 Pennsylvania primary.

The Role of Super-Delegates

Although analysts determined that Clinton needed to win over 60% of the votes in the remaining states in order to catch up to Obama's delegate count, the question of the role of super-delegates resurfaced. Clinton's remarks to the media indicated she feels she has an edge with this elite group, and that they will be the key to determining which candidate goes on to win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Another Win Extends the Race

Clinton's win in Pennsylvania was expected, yet it did not allay concerns within the Democratic Party over her continuing campaign. Many feared that a prolonged battle between Clinton and Obama would weaken the party in the general election in November. Both sides, however, seemed committed to a more cordial tone, with both candidates vowing to support the other. The next big primary day, Tuesday, May 6th, is expected to add Indiana to Clinton's win column and North Carolina to Obama's.